Covid-19: democracy also in crisis?

Only a minority of European countries are still relying on recommendations and voluntary social distancing measures in the corona crisis. Most have implemented varying degrees of lockdown and in many cases declared a state of emergency. Commentators warn against the erosion of the rule of law.

Open/close all quotes
Corriere del Ticino (CH) /

We are not at war

Democracies must prove their mettle, now more than ever, demands Fabio Pontiggia, Corriere del Ticino editor-in-chief:

“When we suspend freedoms and rights in part or entirely, when we bend or circumvent the decision procedures that are the very substance of democracy, then we negate what centuries of theoretical consideration, political struggle and sacrifices of human lives have achieved. ... When threatened by the virus, Germany, France, Italy and Switzerland cannot react like China, Russia or Saudi Arabia. Our democracies are not at war: they are in a health crisis. Which they face as democracies. If they become illiberal, they cannot teach a lesson to the adherents of 'illiberal democracy' who are among us, laughing up their sleeves.”

Postimees (EE) /

Human rights as a risk group

Julia Laffranque, a judge at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), also warns in Postimees:

“The fight against the virus must not become the end which justifies all means. Human rights must be respected. Even if the EU has limited competence in medical matters, it must be prepared to combat corona using legitimate means. It must also stand up for human rights and democracy internationally if it is to be taken seriously in these matters. Otherwise, undemocratic states that manipulate the public with false information will exploit the EU's weakness.”

Politiken (DK) /

Pandemic must not be a carte blanche

Denmark's government wants to adopt fast-track legislation to deal with the corona crisis, including a ban on assembly of more than two people. Politiken warns against rash measures:

“There has to be extremely good reasons for such extreme interference with freedom of assembly - a de facto ban. Is there a positive health effect if the number of people is reduced from ten to two? How great is this effect, and which experts are claiming it exists? These are the questions that parliament must answer before it authorises the government to tighten the screws even more. We are in an unprecedented situation. ... But even now - no, especially now - we must be mindful of the rule of law. The corona crisis is not a carte blanche for the prime minister to do as she pleases.”

Eesti Rahvusringhääling (ERR Online) (EE) /

MPs condemned to twiddling their thumbs

Lauri Läänemets, a member of parliament for the opposition Social Democratic Party SDE, criticises on public broadcaster ERR that the parliament is not able to fulfil its duties in a state of emergency:

“If there is no control, the duty to state reasons disappears. Parliament has no overview of what the government is doing. Without information, MPs cannot assess whether the measures are appropriate. ... Parliament must now urgently resume work and support the government. For this we must find a solution involving online sessions, because the crisis could last for half a year or more. It is intolerable for Parliament to be paralysed while MPs in quarantine could actually be doing their duty.”

Birgün (TR) /

AKP has lost touch with the people

While the corona crisis is getting out of control in Turkey, the AKP government seems to be carrying on regardless, Birgün complains:

“Millions of people are facing loss of income and unemployment because companies have been closed down due to the epidemic. ... While the public is trying to fight the plight with its own resources and solidarity networks, the state is busy appointing additional forced administrators for communities governed by the HDP, arresting Kurdish politicians, organising the tender for the Istanbul Canal, reducing penalties for sexual crimes and providing new resources to support pro-government foundations. The gap between the AKP and the reality of the people has never been so wide.”

NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

The Netherlands as the anti-China role model

The Netherlands has tightened the corona measures but is relying on citizens' cooperation rather than repression, NRC Handelsblad columnist Tom-Jan Meeus comments approvingly:

“Our politicians are stimulators. They want to stimulate good behaviour and thus combat wrong behaviour. ... All over the world the corona crisis is providing an alibi for heads of government to exercise authoritarian leadership and repression based on the Chinese model. ... The Netherlands is the anti-China of the corona crisis. And why shouldn't it be? If this little country with its strict work ethic and high labour productivity can show the rest of the world that this crisis can be fought without dictatorial means, that is certainly no disadvantage in these times. ”

Helsingin Sanomat (FI) /

Everyone must make their own decisions

The citizens currently have a crucial role to play, stresses Helsingin Sanomat:

“The announcement by the ministries that further restrictions may also be implemented can also be interpreted as an appeal to citizens. The core message is that the Finns must decide voluntarily and independently to travel less. If this does not happen and other measures do not work, restrictions may have to be implemented. ... In a state of emergency, decision-making must be concentrated. But this does not mean that power lies only in one hand. The power to prevent the spread of the virus is very decentralised. Every Finn has that power. It is your own decisions that are decisive, and you must be able to make these decisions long before the authorities or politicians make them for you - or even entirely without the latter.” (ES) /

Why Beijing isn't a role model takes aim at those who praise the way China's authoritarian system has handled the coronavirus crisis:

“Stop repeating constantly that the Chinese super-vigilance system is the most efficient for stopping Covid-19. For a start a regime that punishes people for drinking during the working week, jaywalking or reading the Koran forgot to ban markets selling exotic live animals - despite its experiences with the influenza A virus and SARS ... The efficiency of totalitarianism, if it exists at all, is never aimed at protecting the citizens but at ensuring the survival of the regime.”

Večer (SI) /

Media and citizens must be alert

The huge flood of information is deceptive, warns PR expert Bartolo Lampret in his commentary in Večer:

“We have no idea what else is happening because most of the news is caught up with the coronavirus. But it's not just our media that are to blame: this is also the case in the rest of the EU. All the media get their information from the same three news agencies. Democracy is being restricted, the population is becoming impoverished and strict neoliberalism is being introduced. For that reason it's now extremely important to remain calm, think rationally and not believe every post you read on the social networks. ... The media are more important today than ever. Now that all our thoughts are devoted to the pandemic, their task of keeping politicians on their toes is all the more vital.”